The floodgates of association discrimination lawsuits are slowly opening.
Recently, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the section of Title VII that prohibits retaliation against an employee who has engaged in “protected activity” also prohibits an employer from taking retaliatory action against employees who are closely related to, or associated with, the individual who engaged in the protected activity.
And a 1999 6th Circuit case upheld the right of a white employee to sue when he alleged he had been fired because he had a biracial child.
Although the following case ultimately was dismissed because the employee couldn’t show he was harmed or that the company engaged in discriminatory hiring practices, it serves as a powerful reminder that lawsuits can come from just about any employee.
Recent case: Vivian Bert, who is black, sued AK Steel Corporation for allegedly using discriminatory hiring practices that resulted in a racially unbalanced work environment.
The federal judge hearing Bert’s case tentatively concluded that an employee can sue over discriminatory hiring practices that result in an unbalanced work force if that employee can show he suffered some form of personal harm, such as emotional damage.
However, the court dismissed Bert’s case because he didn’t do a good job of showing that the hiring practices at AK Steel were discriminatory, or that he was personally affected by them. The court determined that Bert wasn’t personally affected since he had, in fact, been hired.
Absent material harm, the court said Bert would have had to show the hiring practices caused him to experience emotional distress, and then relate that to working in a racially unbalanced environment. (Bert v. AK Steel Corporation, No. 1:02-CV-467, SD OH, 2008)
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